I am walking along George Street, Port-Of-Spain humming to an old Scrunter Christmas tune blasting from a nearby shop and as I pass East Side Plaza I notice a booth on the inside with some fuchsia pink sugar cakes. I get instant déjà vu for the old days when my grandmother used to make sugar cakes so I stop at the booth. An old woman with a kind smile is sitting at the back rubbing her forehead and adjusting her head tie.
"Granny, how much for the sugar cakes?" I ask. She alights from her stool and looks into her glass case. "Loving, you lucky yes I only have three more. People does buy them out. Them is five dollars," she answers. I buy my sugar cake but something about this old woman makes me want to stay and chat. "I saw you rubbing your forehead, you had a hard day?" I ask. "My friend, I real tired oui, me reach here since 7.30 on the dot. I accustom getting up early since me was a little girl. i used to have to get up early and help me mother in the family bakery since I was 10 years old and then walk to school, in them days everybody uses to walk far; it didn't have car like now," she says.
I detect a small-island accent in her tone. I learn granny's full name is Enid Foy and then finally she satisfies my curiosity- her nationality is not Trini. "I from St Vincent, from a little village called Chancey Village. It was close to the sea. I come Trinidad with me cousin when I was 22 years. To look for work nah, yuh know how it does be. Ah come here looking for ah office work and ah get a domestic wuk hahaha , ent is better I did stay home, eh deary?"
I don't answer her question as she answers it herself. "Nah everything does happen for a reason, I glad I come. Life was hard in Trinidad, me see hard times. When I land here, I start cleaning kitchen and house and then me cousin husband try to court me. I am ah moral person, I pack my suitcase and leave my cousin house. Like he did have badness in he mind ever since he see me. I tell my cousin what he up to and I leave. I rent ah apartment in Lavantille and I start working in ah cafeteria on Prince Street. I stay there for 16 years and during them years I meet ah Vincy who was living close to where I was living and he start liking me," she states. "He was the man who swept you off your feet?" I pry. "Hahaha oui foot.." Foy laughs heartily.
"You really tickle me oui. If yuh put it so. I had five children with him and he was a man who never beat me or cuss me but he did like to run down woman..." Our first interruption comes soon through a slim dark man wearing a rosary and a bullet hole vest. Foy asks me for an excuse and takes out a bottle of juice from her cooler (I realise that juice is also part of her product line). She gives it to the man who pays and leaves — no words just actions. The mother of three girls and two boys then looks at the man depart and says, "He homeless yuh know, I know him. He real like to buy me juice. That is why I does always say in this world you have to live good with people. Sometimes he doh have money and I does credit him. He is ah loyal customer. My friend, if is one rule I live by is that in everybody it have good, you must never scorn anybody because you don't know where you go end up oui." Foy's words of wisdom apparently strike a chord for two passers-by and one of them interjects. "Yes granny preach it!"
Foy smiles because it seems as though they are her regulars at the stall. While she is putting away her day's earrings I take the opportunity to really check out what she has besides sugar cake in her glass case. It's at this moment that I am really enlightened on the great business woman this 79-year-old Vincentian is. Bottles with liquids in different colours, toolum, pawpaw balls, kurma, red mango... And then there is a jar of cocoa balls for grating for tea, corn seeds in bags for planting, cayenne pepper..."This here is pure coconut oil that I make myself, I does make all the toolum and pawpaw ball and red mango too. Some of the other things I does buy wholesale from the market and sometimes the suppliers does come and sell directly to me. You see that molasses there? I get that from a woman in the country." I notice some dried leaves in a bag. "This is bush for purge?" I enquire lifting one of the bags. "That is what you call bitter bush, that is for a clean out not really a purge, the roots next to it is not ginger is saffron root. You know bout that?"I actually am familiar with the saffron root and have used it as a remedy for my countless sports injuries and I tell Foy this but she insists that I am mistaking it for ginger.
"Saffron root is for clot blood you just boil it and draw the liquid and drink it. People does come and buy the shark oil you seeing in that bottle there and the other ingredients to make lock and thing to pass cold." I pose the million dollar question to the business woman/herbalist/sugar cake maker- "Granny, do you use anything you sell here as remedies for say, the cold?" "Hahaha My friend I does go in the drug store and buy Ferrol or Codol. It have people who accustom using these things but I is not one ah them!" she informs matter-of-fact. "You does use it?" she questions. "Sometimes," I say. Just as I am about to ask about the corn seeds on sale, an Indian woman with a bag of popcorn walks up to Foy, "Hi granny, how you going, you know how long I ent see you!" Foy looks at the woman from head to toe and comments- "Girl you looking real good, look how fat yuh get!" The Indian woman responds smiling- "I trying with this life granny I trying. By chance I could get a plastic bag for my popcorn?" Instantly, the gracious granny hands the woman a new white plastic bag and with that we are left alone once more to converse on the interesting life of Enid Foy. "My friend, I cyah really complain about this life oui. I mean I had a nice childhood growing up in St Vincent me wasn't no rich girl but me had ah ball. I uses to pitch marbles with the boys and run inside and pretend I doing housework when me mother come home from work. Them was the good days. I wasn't easy when me was young!" she declares. "I find you still looking young," I joke. "What is your secret?" She laughs her hearty laugh once more. Foy is probably the first 70 and over woman who laughs and shows all her teeth regardless of how many are in her mouth. I must admit after speaking to her for almost an hour I realise that she is a proud, happy and contented woman despite her life's challenges.
"My friend, I have plenty secrets. Me secret for happiness is one word: Jesus. I love Him too bad oui. You want to know me secret to success? It is to doh depend on nobody, pull your own weight with plenty prayers. And the last secret is me special recipe for sugar cake but ah go keep it ah secret!" she concludes. And so I decide to leave on this note and wish Foy aka granny all the best in her future business endeavours. As I walk off I am contented that I have more than sugar cake after my East Side Plaza stop. I have some bits of advice worth trying and I know that I will return to Foy's stall very soon to buy some coconut oil, molasses and of course saffron roots.
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